The Gift is Camp

If you are like many camp parents, it is easy to get caught up in the Visiting Day hoopla. When did Visiting Day go from bringing ritz crackers and spray cheese to window shopping through endless Instagram photos of gifts and baskets and cellophane-wrapped camp-themed goodies? Visiting Day fever is a real thing that parents can catch (and it seems contagious)!   It’s even in the news.

As you pack up your cars this Saturday and head for the hills of Honesdale, please remember that the real gift IS camp. It was only just 4 weeks ago that you shipped off your camper with trunks full of clothing, new camp swag and the promise of an amazing summer. Your campers have not forgotten how lucky they are. They are well-fed and enjoying canteen, dippin’ dots, birthday cake, milk & cookies, and trip day treats! They are sharing their clothes with their groupmates (which means they have 10x the clothes they even need!). They are learning how to spend unstructured time, unplugged with simple games, tetherball and jacks. They are busy cherishing every moment they have at camp with their summer family. They are also learning through our community service that not everyone gets this incredible opportunity. And most importantly, they know none of this would be possible without the amazing gift of camp that you already gave them.

So bring up some of their favorite comforts from home (maybe a NYC bagel or some Dunkin Donuts…you can leave the sushi behind!). And remember the day is really all about one thing.  It’s not about toys, or bunk gifts (which we don’t allow), or endless amounts of candy (that they won’t have time to eat).  It’s about your camper showing off THEIR camp, their friends, their counselors, their experience. It’s about seeing Towanda all over again through the eyes of your camper. It’s about pride, love and a taste of home. It’s about getting a peek into their world and then walking away for them to experience the best that is yet to come. And it’s about knowing they are growing, learning and ready to take on the next 3 weeks.

As you drive away on Saturday afternoon, you can feel amazing knowing that the best gift you gave your camper wasn’t wrapped in cellophane… it is the gift of camp! It is the gift that keeps on giving!

~Stephanie, Mitch and our entire terrific staff

About Camp Towanda:

Camp Towanda is an independent, traditional, co-ed sleep-away camp in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. It is privately owned, operated and directed by Mitch and Stephanie Reiter (who are celebrating 28 years as owners and directors).  For 95 years, Camp Towanda has continued to define what camp should really be. Our program offers state-of-the-art facilities, an excellent and professional athletic department, waterfront, extensive arts, drama and adventure programs, and special events.  We are highly regarded and respected as an industry leader and are involved in giving back to various organizations throughout the year.  Camp Towanda is accredited by the American Camp Association and a member of the Camp-Alert-Network, Wayne County Camp Association, Camp Owners and Directors Association and the Pennsylvania Camp Association.

Don’t Shy Away From Camp

A few weeks ago, The W.O.C. (aka our Winter Office Crew), Stephanie and I attended the annual American Camping Association Tri-State conference (hey, I’m on the Board of Directors). The conference is an opportunity for us to hit pause on the camp countdown and learn with industry experts about the camping business and child development…and buy some cool new toys for the summer at the expo. We all split up to attend different sessions throughout the 3 days- topics like “Working with Millennials”, The Importance of Teaching Character, Values and Community”, “Planning for the Unexpected”, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Middle Schoolers”, “Teaching Your Staff How to Build Powerful and Positive Relationships with Campers” and so much more. We also met for the keynote speaker who was Susan Cain – TED speaker and author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. 

Susan Cain started off her speech with a story about going to sleepaway camp as a young girl. Her mother packed her trunk full of books to enjoy during all the quiet times at camp. But she remembers being criticized for reading, not being social and lacking “camp spirit”. In fact, she humorously shared a defining moment when her campmates cheered “R-O-W-D-I-E” (you know the cheer!) and realized that to be successful at this camp, she too would have to be ROWDIE. When Susan Cain got older and wiser, she came to the realization that not everyone is rowdy by nature. And that they should be encouraged to step out of their comfort zone without stepping outside of themselves.

Her enlightening speech talked about three kinds of people: Introverts, Extroverts and Ambiverts (those who are in between). See definitions below.

One out of every two or three kids (and staff) is an introvert. That’s half to a third of the population. Camp is a place full of spirit, energy and “rowdiness”. But it can also be a place of creativity, reflection and serenity. Understanding what makes introverts and extroverts different, can help us at camp (and in life) create an environment and appreciation for how to get the most out of everyone.

Susan Cain changed our perspective and helped us better understand “the shy child”, who really may not be shy at all. Do you have a child that you have said “it just takes longer for them to warm up”? They may be an introvert or ambivert. Because while the extrovert jumps into the situation (sometimes unaware of the risks or surroundings), the introvert “has a longer runway”. Introverts step back, assess the situation, the risks, the personalities and quietly wait until there is water in the pool before he or she jumps in.

Introverts tend to be more creative and thoughtful. You can get the most out of them one-on-one or in smaller groups and by telling them what you want in advance. Here’s a great example of how to talk to an introvert at camp:

We teach our counselors to say “Tommy, don’t be so shy!” or “Tommy is so quiet”, imagine how Tommy would feel if a counselor said “Wow, you’re great at arts and crafts. Where did you learn to do that? I can see you are a deep thinker. You don’t miss a thing that’s going on do you?”

What we learned from Susan Cain is to rethink the “shy child” and celebrate the wonderful qualities of the introvert, the extrovert and the ambivert. One is not better than the other…it’s just their style and part of who they are at the core. Each style has it’s positives and drawbacks. Understanding the introvert, extrovert and ambivert liberates us from pigeonholing anyone. Camp allows all three of these personalities to find their way, be comfortable in who they are and blossom into their full potential.

We look forward to sharing Susan Cain’s insights this summer at our staff orientation. In addition to our campers, “Quiet” will help us appreciate what makes our staff tick. You can watch Susan Cain’s TED talk here. You can also take Cain’s “Quiet Quiz” . Where do you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum? Does your result surprise you?

Definitions:

EXTROVERT
You relish social life and are energized by interacting with friends and strangers alike. You’re assertive, go-getting, and able to seize the day. You’re great at thinking on your feet and relatively comfortable with conflict. Given the choice, you usually prefer more stimulating environments that give you frequent opportunities to see and speak with others. When you’re in quiet environments, you’re prone to feeling bored and restless. You’re actively engaged in the world around you and at your best when you tap into its energy.

INTROVERTS
Given the choice, introverts will devote their social energy to a small group of people they care about most, preferring a glass of wine with a close friend to a party full of strangers. Introverts think before they speak, have a more deliberate approach to risk, and enjoy solitude. They feel energized when focusing deeply on a subject or activity that really interests them. When they’re in overly stimulating environments (too loud, too crowded, etc.), they tend to feel overwhelmed. They seek out environments of peace, sanctuary, and beauty; they have an active inner life and are at their best when they tap into its riches.

AMBIVERTS
Ambiverts fall smack in the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum. In many ways, ambiverts have the best of both worlds, able to tap into the strengths of both introverts and extroverts as needed.

Source: http://www.quietrev.com/.

About Camp Towanda:

Camp Towanda is an independent, traditional, co-ed sleep-away camp in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. It is privately owned, operated and directed by Mitch and Stephanie Reiter (who are celebrating 27 years as owners and directors).  For over 90 years, Camp Towanda has continued to define what camp should really be. Our program offers state-of-the-art facilities, an excellent and professional athletic department, waterfront, extensive arts, drama and adventure programs, and special events.  We are highly regarded and respected as an industry leader and are involved in giving back to various organizations throughout the year.  Camp Towanda is accredited by the American Camp Association and a member of the Camp-Alert-Network, Wayne County Camp Association, Camp Owners and Directors Association and the Pennsylvania Camp Association.

Working at Camp Puts Millennials on the Path to Success (Today More Than Ever)

There has been a viral video by TED Talk speaker Simon Sinek about millennials in the workplace that has been very hot over social media newsfeeds during recent weeks. If you haven’t seen it, it is a must- check it out here. Then, read on!

In summary, the video suggests the millennial generation is struggling in the real world because they were not given the tools and social skills needed to survive and thrive in a corporate work environment. It then goes on to challenge corporations to find better ways to nurture and mentor millennials instead of throwing their hands in the air.

As camp professionals, we have had the opportunity to work with, coach, raise, mentor and employ hundreds of millennials over the past 27 years. We have witnessed the evolution of what Mr. Sinek discusses in his interview first hand. He talks about how the millennial generation is often characterized as “entitled, narcissistic and unfocused”. They want to work at a “place with a purpose, to make an impact, that has free food and bean bags”. Immediately, our ears perked up when we heard this, because at camp, we’ve got most of that covered!

We make a difference in kid’s lives- check! What’s better than camp food – check! And 235 acres of rolling hills, lakes, ziplines and outdoors is way cooler than bean bags – check! But then he went on to talk about why millennials are finding the workplace so challenging (and why corporations are so frustrated by them as a generation). His theory is that millennials are the product of four factors: parenting skills, technology, impatience and their environment.

When we looked at these factors more closely, we came to the conclusion that camp already addresses the issues that Mr. Sinek is challenging corporations to fix, giving millennials who attend or work at camp an advantage. Here’s why:

  1. Parenting. At camp we aim to make everyone feel special, mentored and shine, but they need to earn it. We do not give out participation medals and you need to earn leadership positions. Not everyone gets to be a Group Leader or an Olympics General. Not everyone gets to be a counselor for the group of kids they may have wanted to. We make our decisions for the “good of camp” in order for our camp to run smoothly and thrive. We see potential in ways that sometimes our staff may not see in themselves. We give our staff the training, mentoring and tools to succeed.  We provide a nurturing, supportive environment that will always be there to catch them if they fall. We publicly acknowledge and reward our staff for achievements just as we would our campers. Staff deserve feedback and praise just like campers do!
  2. Technology. Social media and cellphones simply do not have a place at camp. That means young adults get the opportunity for the first time to learn how to build relationships with co-workers, campers and senior staff that are based on trust, honesty and genuine interest in one another. Moreover, they learn how to practice coping with stress without relying on technology. In Mr. Sinek’s interview he talks about “no cellphones in the conference room” so that coworkers can get to know each other and build trust before meetings begin. This is daily life at camp 24/7 for seven weeks.
  3. Impatience. At camp, life is blissfully old school. We are nestled in the woods in the middle of the Pocono Mountains. There is no Netflix to binge watch, or even TV! If they want someone’s opinion of their outfit, they need to ask them in person to give an actual thumb’s up or down. We have a daily schedule that everyone follows. Sometimes our evening activities run late and counselors may have to wait an extra 30 minutes before they can go into town for their night off with friends. And try being in charge of a group of 7-year old kids and get them to clean a bunk…now that takes patience!
  4. Environment.  Working at camp is a journey, not just a single summer. Our goal for our staff members is that they come back year after year to grow, make an impact and continue to be rewarded and challenged (which is no different for our campers). We give them experiences, opportunities and traditions to look forward to. Which is why if you ask a counselor who worked at camp for four years about their experience, it will be very different than if you ask a counselor who only worked at camp for one summer. Circling back to what Mr. Sinek said that the beginning of his interview, making an impact takes time, work, effort and patience. At camp, we do everything in our power to create an environment and culture where patience, loyalty and paying your dues has its rewards.

The opportunity and value that growing up and working at camp provides is greater than ever. The experience at camp helps produce long-term proven success.

A recent article published by Mark Weller on LinkedIn said it best, “If companies should be hiring anyone, it should be camp counselors. Camp counselors are arguably some of the most patient, caring, hard-working individuals out there, and companies would be lucky to have them on their staff.” When you work at camp you have an advantage in learning the skills that hiring managers are looking for; skills like flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity, accountability, leadership and responsibility. When we reach out to former counselors, they tell us that the skills they learned at camp set them apart from their coworkers and prepared them for the “real world” better than their office internships.

So we agree that every generation is given its own challenges and this generation has its own fair share. Parenting, technology, impatience and environment may be obstacles, but at camp, we see these as opportunities.

We hope that parents continue to see the critical importance for their millennial children to work at camp, as corporations (and internships) fail to find ways to mentor this generation. We hope millennials recognize the value of their experiences at camp and how they translate into the workplace. We hope that employers learn from the camp industry as they struggle to motivate millennials. In the meantime, if they happen to see “Camp Counselor” on a candidate’s resume, they should confidently move it to the top of the pile!

For testimonials on how working at camp made an impact on our former counselor’s careers, click here.

Former Staff Testimonials

Don’t just take our word for it…some former Towanda staff share how working at camp had a positive impact on their career and future.

“I learned invaluable lessons from my 5 summers as a counselor. I learned leadership skills, conflict resolution, responsibility, and how to delegate. I learned to work with people of all ages, coming from different backgrounds- from my campers and co-counselors, to senior staff members. Being a camp counselor is the most rewarding, well-rounded experience that you cannot find anywhere else. Camp DEFINITELY helped me get into Graduate School, and helped me get my first job. I wouldn’t change my decision to keep going back for anything.”

Mollie Spiesman (Dorm 2008)
 Social Work Intern State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright’s Office New York University Master of Social Work


“It’s a shame that internship pressure is on the rise. Despite the seeming importance placed on internships, I don’t know a single person who received a direct job offer for after graduation from anywhere that they interned over the summer during undergrad. I have no idea where this perception came from. I chose to work at camp every summer through college and even half of the summer after I graduated (4.5 years), and I received a job offer the week of graduation. This was even in the engineering field, an industry for which many seem to think that internships lead to a job. Working at camp every summer was the best decision that I made through college. I was able to develop strong friendships with fellow staff from all over the world. Some of my best “camp friends” are non-ex-campers that I met during my counselor years, or ex-campers of other ages that I never interacted with when I was younger. I was also able to develop an incredible relationship with my campers, many of whom I am still in touch with.
Most applicable today, I have been able to extensively discuss my camp experience in my business school and post- MBA job interviews, highlighting the following skills:

  1. As a counselor, I learned how to successfully work on a team with my fellow staff to execute a common goal, 
sometimes under stressful situations.
  2. As an AGL, I managed staff who were often several years older than me, a skill that is very important to fast career 
growth in any company or industry.
  3. As an olympics general, I learned how to handle unexpected additional responsibilities, further improved my 
management skills by placing me in charge of an even larger number of counselors and campers with little notice.
  4. I gained experience working with international staff members across various native cultures and languages, which 
has become increasingly important to employers in today’s globalizing landscape.
  5. I developed my confidence in public speaking and executive presence by leading evening activities, and being on 
stage in front of the entire camp.

These skills are incredibly important in all career paths, and ones that you will never gain by making copies, organizing files, or fetching coffees at a traditional undergraduate-level internship.”

Adam Silverman (Club 2005)
GMBA at Cornell University
North America Zone Logistics Intern Anheuser Busch


“Camp Towanda has been an excellent resource for networking in my professional life. I have my current position at a healthcare technology company in New York City because of my extended Towanda network. In my previous position as a healthcare consultant I often found myself on the golf course with my client…who also happened to be my Camp Towanda big brother in 1997. Although my camp career ended 10 years ago, my Towanda network is an important part of my professional network to this day.”

Charlie Niesenbaum (Club 2001) HMS Account Manager


“I think it’s really easy to get lured away to an internship because you think that’s what you are supposed to do and that’s the best way to get a good job after graduation. But in today’s world, you have to distinguish yourself from a large pool of people that are thinking the same thing. Everyone gets an internship, everyone makes photocopies and makes boxes and does coffee runs. Not everyone is a camp counselor. You don’t get the same experience with hands-on leadership at an internship as you do working at camp and don’t have the opportunity to make so many unexpected connections. Camp is a really special place and while it certainly makes sense to pursue an internship if you have a particular interest, you shouldn’t rule out another summer at camp if you are on the fence. Camp is a place to prove your responsibility, develop your ability to function well under stress, and maintain a fun, easy going environment, which are all things employers value. And also, you’ll have a job for the rest of your life! This is your last chance to have this extremely unique and life changing experience for one last summer.”

Hailey Eichner (Dorm 2007) Associate Rockport Group


“Being a counselor at Camp Towanda was extremely rewarding. As a counselor I was able to learn about the importance of responsibility and leadership. The counselor experience taught me so many things and was a great transition from my childhood to adulthood. Camp provided me with the opportunity to develop crucial skills that have translated into my adult and professional life.”

Jake Morgenstern (Club 2006) Account Executive, Mission Atheletecare


“You can tell anyone who thinks they are better served doing an internship that they are incorrect. I worked at camp until I graduated from college and I couldn’t be more happy with that choice. Once you start working there are no summers off, and little time outdoors. Believe me when you are older you miss those days more than the ones from your first job. I am now 51 years old and, as you know, I see my Towanda friends on many occasions during the year. Those friends provide invaluable guidance and assistance during the year and have also sent me business. The contacts you make from Towanda are better than the ones you get as a young employee. They will ultimately have a wide array of jobs and those contacts will serve you better as you get older then any other contacts you make. Amongst my Towanda friends who were campers, counselors and my campers, are as wide a variety of jobs as you could ask for. I have close friends who are lawyers, doctors, judges, HVAC, lighting, home goods, teachers, and advertising to think of a few. These friends are unlike any others because you don’t just work with them, you live with them. Consequently, these are people you can always turn to for advice, guidance, and just support when you go through some bad times.”

Mitchel Ashley (Club 1980) The Ashley Law Firm, PLLC


“There were so many times in my career in health insurance, when I looked back and said to myself, I learned how to accomplish this at Towanda. In the health insurance industry I was in positions that afforded me the opportunity to teach the skills I acquired to peers and members of my staff, as well as my bosses. Although I was a business major in college, I learned and practiced my management skills at camp. I was lucky enough to be a counselor and group leader throughout my college years. At Towanda, I learned how to motivate and lead my campers and staff, how to take the initiative and risks to assume tasks never handled before in “a safe environment” and how to follow through on assignments to their successful outcome. Many times I was in a position at camp where I just had to jump in and do it. When I was looking to hire staff, I always looked for people who had worked at camp, because I knew they had experience that it would take others years to acquire. The lessons I learned as a counselor and group leader could not be replicated in a summer internship. It would have taken me a number of years and a variety of jobs to have learned them.”

Phyllis Miller (Dorm 1965) Healthcare Professional


“I think that the path I chose to take was a little different than most. I was a counselor the summer before starting my freshman year in college and again the following summer after my freshman. I then, like most people felt the need to apply for internships in the hopes that it would build my resume. After two dreadful summer internships, I was able to return to camp for a third summer as a counselor. I think this third summer as a counselor I noticed a lot more than my past counselor summers. I realized that there were many skills that I learned at camp that I would have never learned at a desk job. I recently had a boss tell me that she was impressed by my organization and motivation. I truly believe that these were two skills I was able to develop during my time as a Group Leader. My organization stems from my ability to ensure that every camper was where he or she needed to be when they needed to be. My motivation comes from the difficulty and challenges it took to engage 25 girls and every activity, even if they did not want to participate. One of the hardest aspects of a job is learning to work with all different types of people. They may have different ideals, cultures, and methods of working than you do. The best part about working at camp is that you are given vast amount of opportunities to work with people that are from different countries and backgrounds from yourself. You are expected to eat, sleep and work with these people nearly 24/7, whether you like them or not. Camp gave me the opportunity to understand people’s differences, and discover new methods of overcoming difficulties of working with all different types of people. At my current job, I work closely with three people from different countries with completely different approaches to work. I have been able to overcome these challenges using many of the same techniques I developed at camp. Finally, camp is just fun. Although you are working, it is a rewarding sense of work that you can see directly impacts the children you work with. Many jobs do not offer the opportunity to take the summer off and go back to camp. Although there might be pressure to get an internship or build your resume, I can guarantee that working at camp makes you stand out, makes you more personable, and helps you handle many of the difficult working challenges that will come in your future.”

Randi Morgenstern (Dorm 2008) Associate PricewaterhouseCoopers


“Working at camp provided practical on the job work experience like no other job I have had. It required me to think on my feet, prioritize and act on a variety of challenges in real time, and constantly be prepared for anything and everything.  Working as a counselor also gave me the opportunity to learn from and work with others from different cultural backgrounds, which is experience that has been valuable in every job I have had and back in graduate school for business. Working as a counselor also helped me place the needs of others before my own (whether the needs of a camper or first year counselor who was new to camp). This was particularly valuable for a customer service job I had – working at camp was excellent preparation! Similarly, working at camp demonstrated the importance of patience and listening, skills that are extremely valuable to any employer.

I loved working at camp, and I would not trade the experience for anything. The experience not only gave me camp memories that will last a lifetime, but I also learned a lot about myself. Working at camp is the best of both worlds – it is a one of a kind personal growth experience, and the lessons learned working at camp provide valuable professional experience that can serve as preparation for a job or great examples of your skills to share during an interview.”

Andrew Bromberg (Club 2005) MBA Candidate at The Ross School of Business


 

The Sound of Silence

c2998683-f54e-4371-861e-2b761a1bdfcd-2Parents don’t always realize how intense the build-up to camp is until their campers flee the nest. For the past 6+ months you have been talking about camp, not talking about camp, shopping for camp, labeling for camp, practicing goodbyes, packing trunks, and just about everything in between, to prepare for the day the busses pulled away. With all that preparation, you must have been ready for them to go, right? You thought so, and then the silence set in. No more bed to make, no more reminders to brush their teeth, do their homework, schlep them to activities. No more talking with coaches and teachers about their progress, no more extensive grocery shopping lists and no more smelly socks to wash. So now what?

You are left praying for a postcard, yearning for the back of their head in a photo, patiently awaiting a phone call.  Something. Anything. The silence and the waiting can be a big adjustment…especially for first year parents. Even for seasoned parents, the letting go of the details of your child’s life isn’t easy.  We totally get it and can promise you a few things:

  1. It gets so much easier. We bet you didn’t realize that your world has been on HIGH SPEED for the past few months leading up to camp. The sudden halt is abrupt. But while you are hearing the sounds of silence, we are hearing the screaming, cheering, laughing, cheering, cheering, cheering…. And all this amazing energy and spirit wouldn’t happen if you were here, because that is the magic of camp. However, after a few days, you will get the hang of being on your own and start to enjoy the break that you deserve. The summer moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and enjoy it, you could miss it. They will be back before you know it!
  2. Trust the system. This is not the first rodeo for Mitch, Stephanie, Amy, Bobby and our incredible Senior Staff. They have seen and lived through almost every scenario you could possibly imagine, and are ready to handle those that come their way. The Towanda philosophy about bunk dynamics, bunk life and the communication with parents comes from decades of combined experience. No decision is taken lightly. It is all FTGOC (For the Good of the Camp & For the Good of the Camper).
  3. Towanda is not like other camps. Everything we do is to help your camper grow into an independent, healthy, confident person. That’s our big picture goal. We care about not just this summer, but the summers and years to come. Your camper will benefit in the long run. Watch how they blossom. See what motivates and interests THEM. Enjoy learning about what choices they make. Sit back and find out how they deal with challenges that come their way. You have given them so many tools, love and support. Trust in them. And trust in the fresh perspectives they will get here at camp. We will not let them fall. We’ve got this! You’ve got this!

About Camp Towanda:

Camp Towanda is an independent, traditional, co-ed sleep-away camp in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. It is privately owned, operated and directed by Mitch and Stephanie Reiter (who are celebrating 25 years as owners and directors).  For over 90 years, Camp Towanda has continued to define what camp should really be. Our program offers state-of-the-art facilities, an excellent and professional athletic department, waterfront, extensive arts, drama and adventure programs, and special events.  We are highly regarded and respected as an industry leader and are involved in giving back to various organizations throughout the year.  Camp Towanda is accredited by the American Camp Association and a member of the Camp-Alert-Network, Wayne County Camp Association, Camp Owners and Directors Association and the Pennsylvania Camp Association.